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The Networks – Gen Con 2016

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What is it? Manage your own TV Network in a card-driven Euro

The deets: 1-5 players, 60-90 minutes

Designer: Gil Hova

Publisher: Formal Ferret Games

I’m not the biggest fan of euro-style games, but in my view, a clever, well-implemented theme can elevate an otherwise boring experience into something exciting and entertaining.

You may differ in opinion on whether or not euros are boring, but while you’re doing that I’m going to talk about the Networks, a cleverly-themed euro game that I found most entertaining.

Each player represents a different made-up TV network trying to rake in viewers for their channel. Everyone starts with garbage shows (with hilarious names) that bring in no money and no viewers. You gotta start somewhere, am I right?

"Unlocking your Cat's Psychic Potential"
“Unlocking your Cat’s Psychic Potential”

Each round, a limited number of shows, stars, and advertising opportunities are dealt out to the center of the table. Players take turns grabbing one thing that suits their fancy. You need shows to bring in viewers, but some of them require stars or advertising deals before you can take them. Stars cost money, but increase your viewership further. Ad deals give you a money boost the moment you sign the deal, and when attached to a show provide a yearly bonus. You also have special Network cards, which provide extra bonuses or abilities, such as extra ways of scoring points at the endgame, or an immediate infusion of cash.

You’ll also have to spend actions tying stars and ads into shows. There’s no limit to the number of actions each player can take during a round, but the first player to pass gets a big cash (or viewer) bonus, the second player gets slightly less, and so on and so forth, so it’s not always to your best advantage to hang on til the very end.

After a round, or “season,” ends, you do a bit of upkeep. You’ve got to pay for all your shows and actors, of course, but you do reap in advertising revenue. Then you score all your viewers, including reruns.

Look at all these parts!
Look at all these paaarts!

A clever aspect of this game is that each show and actor changes in viewership as seasons advance. Some shows take a few seasons to get popular, while others fade quickly. Stars are the same; for example, if you hire the Sean Bean-esque character, people expect that character to die. You get a big ratings boost if you kill him off in the first season, or you can keep him around longer and viewership drops each season when he’s not killed off. (Don’t worry, his character dies either way.) You don’t actually do anything to “kill off” the character, it’s just reflected in the ratings. There’s no flavor text, but it’s pretty clear what’s happening, and it’s very clever.

The theme here is just so charming, it’s hard not to fall in love with. The shows have clever parody names (well, mostly clever) and the stars are clearly recognizable tropes. I don’t know if the jokes become tired after a few plays (and how the gameplay holds up once the humor wears down) but I think there are a lot of interesting things going on. You get to decide when to kill off shows, and the choice isn’t always obvious. You’ve got the constant change in ratings as shows age, and reruns, and who knows what surprises will pop up. Resources are in abundance, so it’s all about trying to find the best path to maximize your viewers, and it’s a lot of fun.

I got a lot of mileage out of American Samurai Warrior.
I got a lot of mileage out of American Samurai Warrior.

Futurewolfie loves epic games, space, and epic games set in space. You'll find him rolling fistfuls of dice, reveling in thematic goodness, and giving Farmerlenny a hard time for liking boring stuff.

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